Breaking Free of Emotional Bondage
© 2000 Michele Toomey, PhD

There are two sources of emotional bondage, ourselves and others. We cannot break free from another, however, until we are first freed from ourselves. The relationship between the victim of emotional abuse and the victimizer is, of course, a circular relationship, a chicken and egg dilemma of sorts, but interrupting the destructive circle by confronting ourselves first is the necessary sequence for liberation. Unlike physical bondage, psychological bondage is kept in place by the imprisoned. A shocking fact, perhaps, but a fact, nonetheless. To be psychologically oppressed we must participate in the oppression and oppress ourselves. To be psychologically liberated we must choose integrity and liberate ourselves.

There is a type of brainwashing that occurs in emotional bondage. The hold over the imprisoned woman is not physical. There are no ropes, no locked doors, yet, she is not free to just leave. The ropes are ties of self-loathing and unworthiness. The doors are locked with lies and self-doubt, with fear and distrust of herself. She needs the shackles and locked doors so that she can be connected to herself through the abuse and the abuser. To break free she must confront herself and be intimate with her fears and her suffering, without blaming herself for them. She must dare to discover, not judge what's going on for her, to search with integrity, not hide in deceit, and to commit to doing what she needs to do in order to be connected to her own sense of worthiness and to her power. She has to face herself and her fears, and not stare at her oppressor. Then she must open her inner eyes to see with integrity what lies within. Only then is she ready to do the work that's needed to move herself away from the violation of blaming and abusing herself. Only then can she begin the long, hard journey out of bondage and back to integrity.

Once our integrity has been compromised by participating in our own abuse, we are in jeopardy. The protection of truth, fairness, caring and respect that integrity provides is no longer available to us. There is a corruption in our system that allows for deception and denial, blame and hostility. Needless to say, the destructiveness of oppression makes the return to integrity exceedingly difficult. With her self-confidence eroded and her self-doubt and self-loathing at the height of a strong negative force, an oppressed woman is in a very weakened position. Yet, it is only from this weakened position that she can begin her liberation journey, because only the liberation journey will free her from emotional bondage. Again, the feeling of a chicken and egg dilemma. Breaking into the bondage circle must be done by the woman in bondage, however, and must be done by confronting the lies of her oppression.

I often describe the moment when the oppressed confront their oppression by confronting themselves, as an awakening. It is not something one can prescribe. It is not something one can force. It is not something that one can predict. Yet, an awakening is something that only occurs when things are lined up in such a way that the integrity of the line-up sets the stage for the possibility of an awakening. Then, the integrity of our system seems to take over, and a spiritual moment involving a leap of faith, calls forth an "awakening". This "awakening" acts like a catalyst for clarity and insight that integrity creates. An "awakening" also inspires hope with the energy and light it generates. This hope allows an emotionally oppressed woman to recognize that she must and can do something to liberate herself. She must first yield to the hope and the force being generated, however. It has the potential to propel her to change her direction and move out of bondage and toward freedom, but she has to let go of her distrust and fear and dare to confront herself.

Without an "awakening" the break from emotional oppression cannot occur. The hold and deadening weight of victimization is too strong to move out of without the hope of an awakening. Without an awakening, the choice cannot be made to break free. Psychological liberation is not an intellectual exercise or an emotional response. Psychological liberation is an intimate experience within the self where everything is lined up in such a way that truth and integrity meet and the whole self is at one with itself at those moments. If this opportunity is taken advantage of, choice is restored and the whole self chooses at that moment to embrace its power and exercise it. Emotionally and cognitively it agrees to choose integrity and to live out of it. The journey out of bondage has begun.

Let us not presume that this is a crossroads that is confronted only once. An awakening must be revisited again and again. It is only a flash every once in awhile, that lights up the integrity path. Every day new choices must be made. When the familiar pattern of self-loathing, self-abuse, and self-doubt overwhelm the commitment to integrity and hope, the oppressed woman must pick herself up, search to discover what occurred to knock her down emotionally, and then caringly and firmly help herself up. She must then find her courage to commit herself again to choose integrity and liberation. Only then will she reconnect with the light and energy of the awakening.

The path out of bondage is not a straight line. It is a curved path of spirals and turns, of tears and struggle, of set-backs and discouragement. The grip of oppression is dangerous and seductively inviting because of its familiarity and deceptive corruption. However, the relief and the excitement that the integrity of an awakening creates within the tortured woman, has the potential and the power to turn her upside down and around, converting the downward pull of the hopelessness of despair into the inward draw of inspiration and hope in herself and the protection integrity provides her.

To break free of emotional bondage, an oppressed woman must value integrity, commit to live by it and with it, and then find the courage to dare to embrace it. A leap, rather, many leaps of faith, must be made, until she discovers she really wants to be a woman of integrity, and that she can be, and will be.

I strongly suggest therapy during this life giving, life changing journey.

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